Addressing Questions of Suffering

Here is a quote by Howard Stone from “The Word of God and Pastoral Care”

Over the years, while making pastoral carecaution2bagainst2bbad2badvice visits and especially hospital visits, I have sadly encountered many people whose well-meaning friends and acquaintances have responded to their why questions with theological answers that left them terribly upset and proved actually to be destructive: ‘This is God’s punishment on you and for your sins.’ ‘This is God’s will; you have to accept it.’ ‘This has happened to bring you to the Lord.’ ‘God wanted your dear one with him in heaven.’ ‘If you hadn’t skipped out on your wife, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you had stayed home with your children where God wants you to be, they wouldn’t have started taking drugs.’

More recently I have also come across another whole class of answers — more psychological than religious — to theodicy issues: ‘You are responsible for your illness.’ ‘You are sick because of your destructive thoughts.’ ‘The cancer inside you is pent up anger; you’ve got to release it to get well.’ ‘You are what you eat; if only you had cut out salt and exercised more.’ Some people are so eager to give their answers that they scarcely wait for the questions to be asked. The results are often quite grim.

When I first began pastoral care work, I would have thought such pronouncements were rare, or occurred only in the more conservative denominations. Not so! Things such as this happen everywhere, regardless of the conservative or liberal orientation. Simplistic and damaging answers flow from well-meaning people at a time when their hearers are in considerable distress, vulnerable, and unable to talk back. I raise the issue here because if ministers care only for people’s emotional pain and do not respond theologically to the issue of theodicy, parishioners will inevitably get their theological education elsewhere, and it may not be the kind we would have wished for them. In other words, if ministers will not respond, sooner or later, to the vital questions of theodicy, neighbors and friends are likely to do so, and not always in a helpful manner.                                       –page 165


PDL: My Brothers and Sisters

For some people, PDL stands for “Purpose Driven Life.” Here in the Philippines, the initials have come to stand for “People Deprived of Liberty.” The following is a short reflection written by Chaplain German B. Ramboyong Jr. on his work with PDL.

November 25, 2016

People: Prisoners are people. When they were imprisoned, their nature did not change. They are still humans. They do not become aliens, different from us. It is easier for us to judge them than reach them. However, our Lord Jesus taught that if we visit them we do it for Him (Matthew 7:37-40). He even calls them “my brothers and sisters.” This is why I carry on: without Jesus I will not be able to be a person to the “my brothers and sisters” in the jail. Or as I would like to put it, “I visit and serve Jesus in the prison every Monday”.

Deprived: Yes! They are deprived of many things. They cannot work and provide for their love ones. They cannot sleep, eat, and drink well. They can not exercise their rights. It is as if everything has been stripped from them either voluntarily or by coercion. On the other hand, by visiting and talking with them I give them the privilege to exhale bothering thoughts, disappointments, worries, and inhale some encouragements and exhortations. Their cells, cases and circumstances may be suffocating but at least they have the luxury to breathe out. And I have joy in my heart to be such a channel of life for some of them.

Liberty: In some degree, the prisoners have independence. They are not totally constrained. They can choose to be confined physically or psychologically for quite a long time or they can opt to be free. Some can be quick and others in a slow progression. But still others are worse-‘ reclusion perpetua’ or life imprisonment. Yet there is hope. I heard how Jesus not only liberated some prisoners in the physical realm but more importantly, in spiritual realm.

As you have noticed, the words “people”, “deprived” and “liberty” are in bold face and they are in the beginning of each entries, because for me each word signifies my general learning regarding pastoral care in prison. I find it awesome that the government has designated the term “People deprived of liberty” to replace the notorious label “inmates” in reference to the prisoners. But I still would like to just follow the phrase of my Lord Jesus and call them “my brothers and sisters”?

Christmas Greetings from Bukal Life Care

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells” during the American Civil War, arguably the first “modern war”– the bloodiest war in American history. Longfellow contrasts the church bells ringing celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the associated paean of the angelic hosts of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to man,” with the violence of the war– a war commonly of Christian brother against Christian brother. Tied to this struggle, Longfellow had the tragedy of the recent death of his wife, and news of his son’s grave injury on the battlefield.

His resolution is similar to the book of Habakkuk, where tragedy and hope are allowed to intermingle.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)where the tension of the contrast is allowed to remain… but with the confidence that God, ultimately, will prevail and bring peace and joy.

We at Bukal Life Care, wish you a blessed Holiday Season, and 2017. We know that some struggle to identify God’s blessing in their lives. It is beyond our ability to resolve this in your hearts and minds. For now, we can offer the words of two who have wrestled with the pain in life, and their ultimate faith in God’s goodwill. So here are  words of Longfellow (identified by many in the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) and the last few verses from the Prophet Habakkuk.

Christmas Bells (1863)

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
        A voice, a chime,
        A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
        And with the sound
        The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
        And made forlorn
        The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
        “For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
                   Habakkuk 3:17-19


Necessity of Theology and Ethics in Pastoral Care

A question can be asked as to whether there is a role for pastoral care. While pastoral care has centuries (millenia) of experience… the last 100 years has seen growth of alternatives for psychoemotional care.

Consider 6 possible (or at least potential) views regarding therapeutic care for those with psychoemotional problems. (These are listed by H. Newton Malony in “The Demise and Rebirth of the Chaplaincy” Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 29, 1975)

  1. Biophysical. The psychoemotional problems stem from problems with the physical body.

  2. Intrapsychic. The problems stem from bad mental processes/conflicts going on within the mind.

  3. Behavioral. The problem is bad learned habits that must be unlearned/replaced.

  4. Socioeconomic. The problem is the environment the person is in. It is necessary to change the setting.

  5. Meaning. The problem is that the individual has failed to gain a sense or purpose or meaning in life.

  6. Morality. The problem is conflict between actions and sense of moral obligations and social responsibilities.

Psychiatrists may be generally thought of when it comes to the first of these (mental care tied to medicine). Psychologists of different flavors may work primarily in the 2nd and 3rd areas. Perhaps social workers would focus in the 4th area. But who can handle the 5th or 6th areas?

It seems pretty obvious that those specializing in pastoral care (pastoral counseling, pastoral psychotherapy) should be the one’s prepared to work in these areas.


First, the concerns of meaning and purpose are essentially theological or religious concerns. Religion speaks to the great mysteries… Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is this all there is? Who am I? Theology reflects upon these religious questions. These can also be described as the issues of spirituality. Sadly today, “spirituality” often implies a vague pleasant mysticism, but “spiritus” has more of an idea of “empowered meaning” or “enlivened purpose.” Dealing with issues of meaning and purpose are clearly to be in the skill set of a pastoral care provider since it is the realm of religion, theology, spirituality.

Second, the concerns of morality or social obligation are issues of ethics, of axiology. Dealing with choices as they pertain to what the individual believes his obligations are to God, to society, and to “what is right” is certainly supposed to be the domain of one trained in religious or pastoral care.

But is this true?

Sadly, this often is not very true. Theological training for pastoral care providers is often quite weak. Much of the training of pastoral care is more in the first four areas… particularly in the 2nd area. Is that wrong? Well, it is not wrong that pastoral care providers be trained in psychological principles. But if the focus is so strong that their theological integration is poor, the result can be that a pastoral care provider is one who essentially practices psychology– but with less skill than a real psychologist. Additionally, there is a strange reticence to give moral guidance in pastoral care. Perhaps this is a reaction to those who are often all too happy to provide quick and easy guidance… often with an ethical base little above Biblical verse dropping.

Pastoral Care Providers need a solid, reflective, nuanced understanding of theology, particularly as it relates to meaning and purpose, and as it relates ot making wise ethical choices. Pastoral Care should follow the wisdom of Psalm 23 in gently leading/guiding. This contrasts the polemic approach of some in ministry. But it also contrasts with the Rogerian “client-centered” approach that fails to give external guidance.

Summarizing, a solid pastoral care provider needs a mature understanding of his or her faith within the context of sound psychoemotional therapeutic principles and methods. If this is the case, such a person is competent to deal with the 5th and 6th areas of psychoemotional concern… areas that others have little to no competence in.

One may want to read an old, but good, article.  Has Ministry’s Nerve Been Cut by the Pastoral Counseling Movement? by Gaylord Noyce (1978)

Psychological Labeling

A fascinating study done by David Rosenhan of Stanford University illustrates the impact of psychiatric labeling. Rosenhan and several colleagues had themselves committed to mental hospitals  with a diagnosis of “schizophrenia.” After being admitted, each of these pseudo-patients dropped all pretense of mental illness. Yet, even though they acted completely normal, none of the researchers was ever recognized by hospital staff as a phony patient. Real patients were not so easily fooled. It was not unusual for a patient to say to one of the researchers, “You’re not crazy, you’re checking up on the hospital!” or “You’re a journalist.”

To record his observations, Rosenham took notes by carefully jotting things on a small piece of paper hidden in his hand. However, he soon learned that stealth was totally unnecessary. Rosenhan simply walked around with a clipboard, recording observations and collecting data. No one questioned this behavior. Rosenhan’s note taking was just regarded as a symptom of his “illness.” This observation clarifies why staff members failed to detect the fake patients. Because they were in a mental ward, and because they had been labeled schizophrenic, anything the pseudo-patients did was seen as a symptom of psychopathology.

As Rosenham’s study shows, it is far better to label problems than to label people. Think of the difference in impact between saying “You are experiencing a serious psychological disorder” and saying, “You are a schizophrenic.”

-Dennis Coon, “Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior,” 9th edition. pages 556-557

Our Latest E-Journal

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Bukal Life Care Journal 2013″ target=”_blank”>Bukal Life Care Journal 2013</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>

Theology and Psychology: Brief Consideration

We get questions at times with regards to the relationship between the Christian faith and Psychology when it comes to counseling. Between various schools of thought, some of whom appear to be at war with each other, it can be quite difficult to know what is what, to say nothing about what is right. We are not going to try to explain all of the differences. A good place to start would be “Psychology & Christianity: Five Views” edited by Eric L. Johnson, with contributors from five schools David G. Myers, Stanton L. Jones, Robert C. Roberts, P. J. Watson, John H. Coe, Todd W. Hall, David A. Powlison. The five “schools” are:Psychology and Theology
Levels of Explanation
      -Transformational Psychology
      -Christian Psychology/Counseling
      -Biblical Counseling

Transformational Psychology on first glance at least seems to simply be a type of Christian Psychology. Because of lack of detailed knowledge of Transformational Psychology, and because our counseling center tends to work mostly within the Pastoral Care movement, the diagram shows Pastoral Care instead.

If the X-axis shows the focus of the counseling. The farther to the right, the greater the emphasis on theology. The farther to the left, the greater the emphasis on (secular) psychology. Near the origin on the X-axis is a more balanced approach. The Y-axis shows the philosophy of the counseling. The farther positive (“up”) the greater the philosophy towards integration of theology and psychology. The farther negative (“down”) the greater the philosophy of separation, or reducing dialogue between theology and psychology in treatment.

It is important to note that the X-axis has on the positive side “theology” not “Bible.” There is a couple of reasons for this. For one, while Bilbical Counseling describes its basis as the Bible, not everyone would agree that its principles are Biblical. Rather, it is safer to say that that Biblical Counseling is based on a theological understanding of the role of the Bible in counseling. A second reason for using the term “theological” is that the Pastoral Care movement takes very seriously the integration of faith/theology and psychology, but some practitioners utilize theologies that do not have the Bible as its base.

Looking at the four quadrants, the five views covered produce a continuous (and overlapping) curve. At one extreme in the lower left is the “Levels of Explanation” view. It tends to focus on Psychology and separates human problems into categories (levels of explanation)… some that are the domain of psychology, and some that are the domains of other specialties. In the upper left are the Integrationists. While all in the upper quadrants could be described as integrational, here the term tends to be used by those that focus more on psychology than on theology. Those that are more integrationist (strong) see a greater role for theology. Those that are less integrationist (weak) see a lesser role for theology.

In the upper right quadrant are two groups. One is Christian Counseling and the other is Pastoral Care. Arguably, these two greatly overlap. Both place a strong role for theology but seek to be effectively informed by findings in secular psychology that have been found useful. Since both Christian Counseling and Pastoral Care overlap, they could easily be seen as one school. They are often kept separate for two reasons. First, they developed differently. Christian Counseling came as a reaction to integrationists on one side and Biblical counseling on the other, in the 1980s. Its underlying theology tends to be relatively conservative. Pastoral Care is older coming from the Clinical Pastoral Training movement in the 1920s and beyond. While it does not, strictly speaking, have only one underlying theological perspective, the average pastoral care practitioner would be seen as more theologically liberal than the average Christian counselor. In the lower right quadrant is Biblical Counseling. It was a reaction to the left quadrant practitioners in the early 1970s. Originally known as Nouthetic Counseling. It takes a more negative view of psychological principles and methods that are seen as not coming from the Bible. As such there is a strong separation between counseling they feel is consistent with the Bible, and counseling based on sources outside the Bible. Recent movements in Biblical Counseling have sought to find more integration, but separation still dominates the movement.

Perhaps it is best not to focus on “Who is right” and focus on what each has to offer. Biblical Counseling tends to focus on sin and behavioral changes. In some cases that is the care needed. For serious psychoemotional problems such as personality disorders and psychoses, the integrationists and levels of explanation practitioners are better prepared to assist recovery. For problems such as conflicts, being “sinned against,” self-esteem, and such, perhaps Christian counseling and Pastoral Care have more tools to help.

When it comes to treatment, one size may NOT fit all.

Products from Jail in Baguio and Benguet

Some of our Chaplain Trainees have been working with the Baguio City Jail and Benguet District Jail (La Trinidad). They asked if we could put some of the products produced by the inmates (as part of their retraining and income development) would be put on the Web. The items that are brown look like they are wicker, but are actually skillfully made from tightly rolled-up newspaper. You would be amazed at some of the products and how they are made from things most of us throw away. We own a beautiful swan sculpture picture frame made at the Baguio City Jail from gum wrappers. It is inspiring and reminds us how God takes people the world has “thrown out” and makes something wonderful and new from their lives.

We are not a store (and don’t plan to become one anytime soon). Still, we are wholeheartedly in support of helping the inmates in their wholistic growth and rehab. If you have any questions about the products, please forward them to us at, and we will gladly forward them to Sister Tammy.
Jail Products 1

Jail Products 2